Midlands 2 West (N)
Leek won a hard fought battle against local neighbours Newcastle on Saturday with the result and points in the balance throughout.
Will Graham, Tom Scragg and Kini Buli were the starting back 3 and Gary McDermott and Nick Palmer were in the centres.
Sam Hunt was back at 10 but Ollie Dew’s late withdrawal, gave a 1st start at scrum half for Matt Leadingham and the youngster had a tremendous game.
Jake Bainbridge, Ed Cheadle and returning Bobby Cheadle made up the front row. Ben Barlow and skipper Luke Hardern were at lock.
With Joel Booth still out, Luke Staton was at No.8 and Andy Thompson and George Hunt were on the flanks.
Lee Williams was back in the squad following injury and was joined on the bench by Andy Outram and Simon Drew.
The game kicked off on a perfect day for rugby and Leek dominated the opening quarter, scoring one try and being held up over the line twice and denied another
with a double movement.
On 3 minutes, Leek stole a Newcastle lineout on the 22 and the drive for the line had Ed Cheadle over the line but held up.
From the scrum, Nick Palmer went on a great angle to get close before the ball came out to skipper Luke Hardern who crashed over the line under the posts for the opening score on 5 minutes.
Gary McDermott converted and Leek had made an excellent start. 0-7.
Leek dominated possession as Newcastle defended stoutly and on 17 minutes, another lineout in Newcastle’s 22 had the Leek forwards driving relentlessly to the Newcastle line.
Just before it though, the Newcastle pack stopped the drive and the ball spilled out. Matt Leadingham collected and was just held up in the right corner.
From the scrum, Leek’s patient recycling looked certain to produce another score but when Luke Hardern was brought down close to the line, his next movement was deemed a double move and Newcastle cleared with the penalty on 20 minutes.
This signalled a shift in momentum in the game. A lineout to Newcastle on the halfway line on the right, led to a great kick into Leek’s bottom right corner where the bounce of the ball beat Will Graham and the two Newcastle backs chasing recovered the ball, made one pass and scored a try on the left. The conversion missed but 25 minutes in and the score was 5-7.
Newcastle continued to have the better of the 2nd quarter as their forwards produced good ball and the quick backs looked to get the ball wide. Nick Palmer was called upon to make a great tackle on 31 minutes before a penalty on 34 minutes for not releasing in the tackle gave Newcastle the chance to take the lead. However, the attempt went wide as did a 40th minute effort for a similar offence.
6 minutes over time was then played and Leek were up to the line in the last of those minutes but poor passing ended the half with the game perfectly poised for a great 2nd half. 5-7.
The 3d quarter continued as the 2nd with Newcastle maintaining possession and on 45 minutes had another penalty attempt go begging after a high tackle. On 53 minutes, Newcastle’s 4th miss at goal for a Leek player on the wrong side of the ruck and then Leek defending and winning a turnover close to their own line signalled a change in the game again.
Fielding a clearance kick just inside his own half on the right wing, Kini Buli engaged the Newcastle defence on the 10 metre line. The ruck developed and Leek ran the ball wide left. As the ball reached skipper Luke Hardern, he set off, handing off a forward and sprinting down the left wing. As he approached the Newcastle 22 and sensing the tackle was coming, he waited for the commitment of the tackler before offloading brilliantly inside to the supporting Nick Palmer who ran in unopposed on 58 minutes.
McDermott converted to increase Leek’s lead to 5-14.
On 68 minutes, Leek produced another superb play after Luke Staton had broken a couple of tackles near the ruck in his own half, he reached the Newcastle 10 metre line. His outside pass was picked up off the floor by man of the match, Matt Leadingham. He drew his man before passing wide right to Tom Scragg who sprinted down the touchline to score in the corner. McDermott’s conversion missed but with 10 minutes to go, Leek’s lead had increased to 5-19 and the momentum was with the Moorlanders now.
The referee was to allow nearly 8 minutes of overtime as the 2nd half was littered with injury stoppages late on as the forwards of both sides had fought themselves to a near standstill in a fantastic battle.
Unfortunately, the Newcastle centre was yellow carded on 81 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Andy Outram to end any chance of a Newcastle fight back but the game was live as Leek tried to score the 4th try and Newcastle a 2nd for the bonus point. Neither happened and the game ended in the gloom after a typical hard game between these local rivals.
Stand out performances for Leek go to skipper Luke Hardern and scrum half Matt Leadingham, who may well have shown the coaches his best position after mainly starting at wing and full back in the past.
Lee Williams looks to have shrugged his leg injury off and gives options for the front row going into the festive season.
The Leek win kept them in 5th place and next week they welcome Old Saltleians to EsterChem Park for the last home league match of 2017. Kick-off is at 2.15pm.
Author John McDermott